Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Rough and Ready Bengal Chutney

This should tell you how good the stuff is - when I went to photograph it, this was all that was left.

As Wild Colonial Grandfather would say, this one will put hairs on your chest. In relation to its mild modern equivalent, it is a second cousin, twice-removed, from the dodgy side of the family.

This is not a chutney that Stephanie Alexander would want to invite for high tea. This is a rough Colonial chutney and it will drink all your booze, spit on your floor, and steal your dog on the way out.

Though it does mellow with age, straight out of the gate it gives the impression that the world’s strongest flavours have met in your mouth to settle once and for all which is the toughest. For me, and anyone else who loves a kick in their condiments, this one is a real winner.

It livens up a bland dish like a stick of dynamite, and makes a truly mouth-watering glaze on roast meat or veg.

Of historical interest here is the authenticity of the recipe. Authenticity, in foodie terms, refers to how likely someone from the country of the dish’s origin would be to laugh in your face if you served it to them. Anyone who has been to a country Chinese restaurant and had “fried rice” consisting of mixed frozen vegetables boiled together with long grain rice would be forgiven for thinking that authentic multicultural food is a relatively new, urban phenomenon in Australia.

In reality, the Colonial period saw a brisk circulation of people, goods and ideas among the British colonies. Remember, this was the period when variants of the phrase “The Sun never sets on the British empire” had been so apt for so long that it was considered a cliché. Many colonists came by circuitous routes, such as my Cornish great-great-great uncle Henry Kneebone who arrived here after a thoroughly eventful stint in South Africa. Though there is some substitution of ingredients, this is very much a mid-19th century Bengali Chatni, right down to its intense saltiness and heat (both of which I have scaled down for Australian tastes – if you want the original, put in a whopping 60g of each).

In the flurry of nation-building gentrification, and homogenisation, that swept across Australia in the first half of the 20th century, many of these non-English parts of Australia’s history were written out of the national story. Let’s cook them back in.

If your ancestors took an interesting route here, and picked up anything interesting like this recipe along the way, I’d love to hear from you.

Here is the original recipe:

BENGAL CHUTNEE. - The following is an Indian recipe for chutney, generally thought very good: - In this country apples must be substituted for the mangoes, and 2oz. of pounded ginger for the green ginger mentioned in the recipe: - 4lb. good moist sugar, 2lb. salt, 2lb. garlic, 2lb. green ginger, 2lb. mustard, 2lb. raisins stoned, 2lb dried chillies, four   bottles best vinegar, and sixty mangoes. The garlic, chillies, resins, &c., to be pounded together with the salt very fine; the sugar mixed with one bottle of vinegar and made into syrup. The mangoes, or apples, peeled, cut in slices, and boiled in the rest of the vinegar till soft. When cold, mix the whole well together, and bottle or put into pots.

RECIPES. (1869, March 6). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 7.



For the seasoning paste:

10g (2 tsp.) salt

25g (2 tbsp.) garlic

25g (2 tbsp.) fresh ginger

25g (2 tbsp.) English mustard

60g (1/4 cup) raisins

2 dried chillies, or 2T (5 tsp.) chilli flakes (this makes a medium heat chutney – the original mouth scorching recipe calls for 60g).


For the syrup:

120g (1/2 cup) brown sugar

70ml (2 1/2oz) vinegar


For the mangoes:

210ml (7 1/2 oz) vinegar + a dash of water (if necessary to cover the mangoes)

4 mangoes, sliced into 1cm (1/2 an inch) wide strips

Cooking Time

1 hour (jolly quick for a preserve), including some cooling time in which you can occupy yourself by counting your socks, walking your granny’s dog, or helping to preserve the Cornish language.


Approximately 3 medium jars, depending on the size of your mangoes. Please note that I scaled this recipe down by 1/15th, as the original recipe called for 60 mangoes and seemed to be geared towards making enough of the stuff to bathe in. As a consequence, it should scale back up quite well.


Combine all the ingredients for the seasoning paste in a mortar and pestle or a food processor, and blend until only very small pieces of the raisins remain.

Put the brown sugar and vinegar in a non-reactive [hyperlink] pan, and heat very gently just until the sugar has dissolved. Stir it constantly. Once the sugar has dissolved, take the pan off the heat.

Place the mangoes in a non-reactive saucepan, along with the vinegar. If the vinegar is not even close to covering the mangoes, add a dash of water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mangoes are tender. Don’t be too gung ho with the stirring though, or you will make mango puree. When the mangoes are done, take the pan off the heat.

Once all the elements are cool (or, if you impatient like me, as cool as they’re going to get), mix them together.

You can start eating your chutney straight away, or you can leave it in the jar for a few weeks to calm down.

Chutney is ideal to serve with meat, on a sandwich, or with a strong cheese. You can also use it as a glaze for roast meat or vegetables – I have particularly fond memories of chutney-glazed baked ham.

Do let me know how you use yours!